Celeb News

Secret men's business: Australian men at 60

Secret men's business: Australian men at 60
John Anderssen, Peter Farrell, Malcolm Farr and John Rivett. Photography by Hugh Stewart. Styling by Mattie Cronan.

What really goes on inside the head of the average 60-year-old man? Malcolm Farr asks three friends from his schooldays how they feel about reaching the big 6-0.

Some 43 years ago, I was involved in possibly the most embarrassing piece of schoolboy song writing in the history of that blighted musical genre. Our school was marking 100 years of classes and senior students paraded through Brisbane.

This, happily, would have remained a discarded reminder that a career in popular music was never within our reach were it not for one jarring fact. All of those mates responsible for it are turning 60 this year.

John Rivett, a successful lawyer and businessman, has invited us and many others to his birthday party in Noosa, Queensland. The party will run from lunch through dinner onwards, and will feature a band.

"Put on the kettle and tap the keg. We'll be there," replied John Anderssen, a teacher in Charleville in western Queensland. "What songs are we doing?"

Peter Farrell, CEO of a pharmaceutical handbook company employing 25 people, wasn't sure he could make it from his home town of Adelaide, but was also interested in the song selection.

It was a fun email exchange among four men suddenly brought together again by the reminder that we no longer are schoolboys. We are only 50 years younger than the Commonwealth of Australia and only 10 years younger than Bob Dylan.

We are older than the prime minister and the leader of the Opposition. When we first met, you could buy cigarettes at a chemist.

We are from the first bunch of Australians conceived and born at the start of the 1950s, a decade of prosperity and security after 20 years of war and economic crisis.

One consequence of this positive and protected start is a stubborn streak of independence. As Peter says, "I don't agree that others should work to support me — either directly or through the tax system — if I'm perfectly capable of supporting myself."

Our parents, young World War II veterans, wanted much better for us and the strength of their devotion to us is readily seen in our lives.

John Rivett recalled how his father served as a 19-year-old officer in the army engineers. His brother, John's uncle, died when his Spitfire crashed in Egypt. John had no cousins on his dad's side and his paternal grandmother was an only child. The extended family could sit around a small kitchen table.

"So, I grew up with a father who was determined to live many lives (at least two to the absolute fullest) and he would never sleep under canvas again," John wrote to me.

"I guess I always felt I was very lucky to be even born, let alone living in the great exciting world I grew up in. That feeling has become stronger over the years."

As part of the Baby Boomer advance guard, we feel privileged, which could explain why some of us have yet to complete the business of growing up. The two Johns, Rivett and Anderssen, are no problem. Yet I'm not sure Peter Farrell and I fully qualify for the description "mature".

Peter has shown extraordinary maturity in committing himself to caring for his seriously ill wife, Sally, but in other areas has put a priority on fun, a process I endorse. Our fathers died young of illness, but that didn't make us look after our bodies. We share the sensible view there is nothing sadder than the sight of a too-thin 60-year-old man lining up for a triathlon.

I put it this way in an email chat with Peter, "Yeah, we're just as silly (as we were when younger), but we're smarter with it. So, while we have given up smoking, we believe we can work and play much as before, and get out alive."

Malcolm Farr is the political editor of news.com.au.

Read more of this story in the August issue of The Australian Women's Weekly.

Your say: How have you changed as you've got older?

Video: Rejecting retirement

read more from